Local Sheriff's Deputy Hailed as Hero

Washoe County Sheriff's Office
By  | 

A Washoe Sheriff sprang into action to calm and restrain an angry airline passenger.

It happened yesterday on a South African Airlines flight..

Assistant Sheriff Jim Lopey was coming back from a vacation after he and his wife Mishelle has just finished an 18-day African safari. They were celebrating their 20th anniversary in South Africa.

Neither of them could have known the trip would end so eventfully.

Still feeling the jet lag, Assistant Sheriff Jim Lopey admits he didn't expect a room full of cameras for his return. "We didn't know it garnered this much news attention," he says.

Lopey says he was 20 hours into a 22-hour return flight from Cape Town to Atlanta, when his wife noticed something wrong.

Mishelle Lopey\Wife]

"I just had a feeling there was gonna be problem with the man," says Mishelle Lopey. "I think Jim was trying to get some zzz's when I went, 'honey' . . ."

The problem was passenger James Drake, who was shouting and banging his fists on the cockpit door. "He would get agitated. He was up and down," says Jim Lopey.

Lopey identified himself as a police officer - though he was unarmed, yet flight attendants had handcuffs and a nightstick ready.

But he and another passenger used brains over brawn, by talking the man into a seat, and keeping him calm for two hours until the plane landed.

"If we had gone hands on I'm confident we could've gotten him cuffed," Lopey says.

"I wasn't worried. I knew if anyone could diffuse the situation it was Jim," Misheele says.

Lopey says his quick response came from 25 years on the force, and it's something the assistant sheriff wouldn't hesitate to do again..

Federal officials say James Drake was arrested back in 1987 for a similar disturbance aboard a plane. He is being held in Atlanta and faces several charges including interfering with the flight crew.

He is not being considered a terrorist, but they do think he is suffering some mental problems.

Assistant Sheriff Lopey says at one point the man even tried to cut his own neck with a piece of metal.

And everyone kept their cool so that helped with the situation too.